SHORT TERM 12 Blu-ray/DVD Review
By their nature, indie films depend heavily – if not completely – on performance, writing, and direction to succeed or alternatively, fail. They’re defined by the subject matter (people, not spectacle), on the exploration of inner space, not outer space. They can’t use visual effects or action-oriented set pieces to cover up storytelling shortcomings or flaws. In short, they might be easier to produce than a typical Hollywood blockbuster, but they’re harder to elevate beyond the mundane, the ordinary, or the familiar. Look no further than Short Term 12, writer-director Destin Cretton’s feature-length debut (based on a short of the same name), for a brilliant example of an indie film that succeeds on every level (e.g., dramatic, visual, emotional). And luck no further for one – if not the – best performances of the year in Brie Larson as Short Term 12’s central character, Grace, a shift supervisor at a group home for troubled teenagers.
Cretton didn’t have to research life at a group home. He lived it as a shift supervisor. He experienced the ups and downs of the teenagers under his care first-hand and the authenticity, the rawness, and the truthfulness is evident in every scene and every shot. Cretton has more than just sympathy for the teens under Grace’s care. He has empathy too. He burrows deep into who they are and just as importantly, why they are. Initially, Grace seems to be too good to true. She’s too perfect, always knowing what to say and do in every situation, but as we soon learn, Grace once lived in a group home too. She understands what they’re going through – the anger, the bitterness, the despair – intimately and uses that experience, that knowledge to connect with them. She spends every day trying to make their lives better, even if only marginally, in the hope that nurturing the teens under her care will help them through their recovery and maybe, just maybe become whole again.
Despite Grace’s abilities, she faces challenges at home and at work. She lives with another shift supervisor, Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), but attempts to keep their relationship a secret. She’s unsure – as any woman in her twenties would be – of her future with Mason. At work, she spends the most amount of time with Marcus (Keith Stanfield). Almost eighteen, Marcus faces an uncertain future of his own. Once he turns eighteen, he must leave the group home, the only home he’s known for several years. Not surprisingly, he acts out his emotional issues with the staff and the other teens at the group home, including his sometime nemesis, Luis (Kevin Hernandez). The arrival of another troubled teen, Jayden (Kaitlyn Dever), reminds Grace of herself at that age. Grace’s empathy, so important to her success as a shift supervisor, threatens to undo her. Jayden’s presence reminds Grace of her own troubled past, but Jayden also seems to offer Grace an opportunity to avoid or correct those mistakes.
Cretton’s script rarely takes the path or road most traveled, taking Grace – and with Grace, the audience – on an often unexpected, but no less believable, personal journey. That he leaves Grace, Marcus, Jayden, and Mason with hopeful futures isn’t – as some might surmise – a compromise to get or complete funding (by avoiding an overly downbeat ending), but well earned, organic to the narrative, the characters, and their intertwined personal journeys. Cretton also has a sharp ear for naturalistic dialogue and directing performances. Given the number of speaking roles for teens, Cretton could have easily erred in casting or directing, but didn’t. Every performance, no matter how small, never feels overdone or underdone. They always feel genuine. And in Brie Larson, an actress with an ever-expanding resume of memorable performances, Cretton found the right performer, the right voice for the deeply affecting, poignant story he wanted to tell.
• Deleted Scenes / Behind-the-Scenes Featurette / Making the Music Featurette / Short Term 12: The Original Short Film / Trailers, Teasers, and Outreach Partners